Round Table India talks to Asha Kowtal, General Secretary of the All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch (AIDMAM) which has been playing an active part in the people's movement seeking justice for the 20 year old Dalit girl who was brutally raped and murdered in Jind, Haryana, on 24th August, 2013 on the progress of the probe and the movement:
What is the current situation in Jind, with regard to the investigation?
After the agitation, a one person SIT was constituted with Satheesh Balan, SP Hisar, as the key investigation officer. He has a credible reputation with the local people and so the committee members, family members and activists were rather satisfied. Satheesh Balan visited Jind and called the family members for questioning. He met them for a few hours. He also let go of the two male relatives who were detained for interrogation.
After that - there seems to be no progress at all. He promised to give the AIIMS report to Rajat (Rajat Kalsan, activist lawyer), but is still evading and dodging him. I call the SP everyday but he never picks up my calls. I spoke to Rajat this morning and he says: as of today there is no other update on the investigation.
The autopsy report has not been given to the family yet? Why? What are the reasons offered?
No reason. The SP does not say that he will not give the report. But (he is) just evading. The court order is awaited and as soon as the autopsy report is with us, Rajat will move to the court.
News clippings that reveal how the protesters demanding justice were treated by the administration
How is the family doing? Are activists and lawyers in touch with the family and the villagers?
The activists including Rajat were at the village two days ago for a condolence meeting. They met the family members and spent time with them. There, they have formed a new committee for follow up of this case and Rajat is the chairperson of that committee. Meanwhile, the activists have got the medical examination done for the family members and protesters who were injured by the police during the lathi charge.
What were the reasons cited by the police for detaining the family's relatives?
Based on the call records, the boys were taken for interrogation. Part of the investigation process.
Where there any one else taken for interrogation, other than the relatives?
No. Not that I know about.
No suspects or leads in Jind? Where her body was found?
Apparently no. If you watch the video of our meeting with SP and DC Jind - what he basically said was that the investigation is on, so we can't disclose any information at this stage.
So, over three weeks after the incident, the administration has no suspects and even no explanation of how the girl actually died?
Yes, pathetic. But that's what it is.
Your team has been trying to reach out to the political leaders about this case. What has been the response at Delhi?
After we picketed in front of Kumari Selja's residence - she called a delegation to meet her the next day. She also called P.L Punia (chairman of NCSC, the Nation Commission for the Scheduled Castes) and another officer from Haryana for the meeting. She then spoke to the SP and gave strict instructions for a stringent investigation. P.L Punia also spoke to the SP. After that, NOTHING.
I have been in touch with other members of the SC Commission and NCW seeking at least an Action Taken report... But no response.
We also tried for a meeting with Sonia Gandhi, but due to ill health, she was not giving any public appointments.
We managed to get the message across to Deepender Hooda and he is aware of the facts of this case.
My views on their response ... I don't know what words to use!! It's frustrating because ... just imagine for each case of violence against Dalit girls and women - if we need to reach the Union Ministers and other top shots ... then what the hell is the criminal justice administration for in this country?
How has the civil society's response been? Has the local or national civil society responded to the extent you might have expected?
If you include media in the 'civil' society then I can say that this time - the issue did get some coverage, though of course, it does not make national headlines. The nation unfortunately does not want to know what happened to the Dalit girl in Jind!
Dalit sanghatans in Haryana, the nearby villagers and family held the struggle firmly in Jind. I don't know why some people say that Dalits in Haryana are not organized.
The details of this case were disseminated widely and a call for action was given nationwide. Apart from the solidarity protest in Kolkata, no other groups responded.
But the Mashaal rally was a beautiful process of mobilization in just one day. Many came ... young people and others. It was a display of the true spirit of solidarity and struggle.
The Indian feminists have been largely silent but perhaps this time some of them are waking up to the reality of injustice on Dalit women.
Have any political parties extended support to the agitation over the issue?
We met a few BSP leaders and cadres in Jind who supported the protests. I am unable to comment on their current involvement. No other political party has come forward to support the agitation.
What has been the response from women's groups? Is the effort of Dalit women to bring caste to the fore beginning to sink in?
The silence from the feminists is deafening. But we have made all efforts to get them into the loop and shared the information at every stage. I would still say the response is very poor, not even lukewarm. But as I said earlier, a few of the Indian feminists are now saying that they have not sufficiently engaged with the caste question and they are seeking suggestions and defining modes of collaboration.
How far have we come until now on the path to justice for the brutally violated girl in Jind?
If not for the protests starting at Jind and then all the following actions - this case would also have gone down the way of the long list of our girls and women (similarly violated): unknown and lost.
But I would honestly say that the collective efforts have brought it thus far and we all should keep the struggle alive in every possible way that we can!
Based on the evidence from women who examined the body, and the first two blotched postmortems.... it is evident that she was sexually violated, quite possibly with objects; therefore the third postmortem report is vital for rape laws to be redefined, right?
Yes, all people who saw the body said the same - clear signs of sexual assault and injuries and cigarette burn marks. Whatever defining and re-defining of rape and the laws - the big question is when will all this reach Jind? When will it reach hundreds of women from our community who are resisting, fighting and surviving!
You've been at the forefront of this movement for justice - how do you plan to move this ahead?
Planning a meeting with Dalit sanghatans in Haryana. The next steps of the campaign will evolve from there with the involvement of the community.
A new committee with Rajat Kalsan as head was formed (by the agitators) a few days back. What is their plan of action? Rajat, we know, is waiting for the (autopsy) report but is something else also planned?
The committee will look into the assurances given by the district administration before the cremation. And the action on police involved in lathi charge. Rajat will move to high court once he gets the report.
Is there going to be another meeting, to follow up on the Mashaal rally? Should some kind of an action committee be formed in Delhi too, to keep the pressure on and push the case - like in Haryana? Is that feasible?
Yes. I think we should plan a follow up meeting to the Mashaal rally. A few others also suggested the same.
What are the chances of taking this to the entire nation, even if it takes a few months to achieve this - should we try to do this in various ways? Is there a plan like that?
A nationwide agitation is what is most important! I don't know how to wake up the sleeping persons!!
Was there another rape of a Dalit girl in Hisar a few days back? Any info about that?
The culprits (general caste) in the Hisar case that followed have been arrested. I requested Rajat to send a small update on that.
Lastly, there is a strong suspicion that the efforts to scuttle or slow down the probe in Jind are motivated by political compulsions of the ruling governments in Haryana and New Delhi - what are your views on that?
I think this is pretty obvious. Actually no Government will show increase in atrocities against Dalits. And this is a systematic way of keeping the numbers low. The silence from Parliament is the key to justify this suspicion.
Update from Asha Kowtal:
Dear Friends, As few of you had already suggested that we need to plan for the next steps of this campaign on violence against Dalit girls and women in Haryana, I am proposing a quick meeting in Delhi on Saturday, Sept. 14th at 4-6 pm. Venue: meeting room at my office near Patel Nagar metro station. Please pass the word around quickly. Thanks.
Please read the Fact Finding report here.
Please read other related articles on the issue:
Video courtesy: Dalit Camera: Through Un-Touchable Eyes